By Simon Miraudo
December 19, 2012
With 2012 coming to a close, it's time to reflect on the year's cinematic treats, and then crowbar each work of art into a numerical position on a comparative chart. Comedies versus dramas! Thrills versus chills! The great versus the very good! This is the business we list-makers have chosen. Come, shoulder the burden.
As the final days of 2012 - and, should the Mayans be believed, life as we know it - fall away, we've been busy distracting you from certain apocalyptic annihilation with soon-to-be irrelevant lists (if humanity rebuilds and forms a new world order, I hope an ability to rank movies becomes a kind of currency, otherwise I am in serious trouble). We've already published our Top 10 Foreign Language Films of 2012, our Top 10 Documentaries of 2012, our Top 10 Australian Films of 2012, our Top 10 Male Performances of 2012, and our Top 10 Female Performances of 2012. You would think I've run out of hyperbolic adjectives, but nope, I've saved a few for this, the big daddy of them all! (I don't believe I've used 'ecstatically splendiferous' so far; I'll try to wedge it in somewhere below.) Publishing my 10 Worst Films of 2012 exorcised whatever demons from this past calendar year I had left swimming around my stomach, and I can now fully celebrate the absolute best of the best. Without much further ado, here they are...
Honourable Mentions (in alphabetical order):
21 Jump Street, Argo, The Avengers , The Cabin in the Woods, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, The Interrupters, Killer Joe, Killing Them Softly, Les Misérables, Life of Pi, Looper, Magic Mike, Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, Polisse, The Raid, Ruby Sparks, This Is Not A Film, Undefeated, Wreck-It Ralph.
10. The Grey
As with last year, selecting a picture to take the #10 spot was the most difficult decision of all. I had long been set on my top nine. However, there were too many potential options to fill this final space (you should know The Dark Knight Rises, Life of Pi, and Les Misérables came closest). Ultimately I went with Joe Carnahan's existential thriller The Grey, which was perhaps the only great release of the first six months. A thoughtful, haunting elegy about man's relationship to God posing as a B-grade chiller in which Liam Neeson battled ferocious wolves. In a way, The Grey had it all. I should never have questioned its worthiness.
Unlike so many others, I hadn't strayed from Wes Anderson, so I don't share the opinion that Moonrise Kingdom is a 'comeback' of sorts (he was always here!). In fact, as I wrote in August, it's his "most mannered and intricately manicured film to date." That didn't diminish the rich love story between pre-teens Sam (Jared Gilman) and Suzy (Kara Hayward), on the run from the inept adults in their lives (Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Bruce Willis, Edward Norton). This is Wes at his Wesiest, and he proves that he can marry indelible imagery with unique aural delights and tell a compelling story with true characters at the same time.
I discovered Lynn Shelton's Humpday too late for it to be included on my Top 10 Films of 2009 list. I won't make the same mistake with her follow-up, Your Sister's Sister, which similarly concerns an unconventional love triangle and is as heartfelt as it is hilarious. The premise sounds like the worst kind of slamming-door farce: a straight man (Mark Duplass) and a gay woman (Rosemarie DeWitt) get drunk at a log cabin and have sex, only for her sister - also his true love (Emily Blunt) - to turn up the next morning! This heavily improvised dramedy certainly has its fair share of twists and turns, but it makes this list for the grounded way it goes about executing them. Three fine, funny, very human turns in a fine, funny, very human feature.
It is absolutely criminal that comedian Mike Birbiglia's directorial debut, Sleepwalk With Me, still doesn't have an Australian distributor (and perhaps just as criminal that I'm including it on my Top 10; hey, it's my list and I'll do as I please). Based on his astutely observed and side-splitting one-man show of the same name, it tells of struggling stand-up Matt Pandamiglio (Birbliglia) and his increasingly dangerous sleepwalking condition, which may or may not be exacerbated by his claustrophobic relationship with girlfriend Abby (Lauren Ambrose). Perceptive and affecting as a dating drama; fantastic as a chronicle of a comic finding his voice. The picture is narrated by Birbiglia from his car as he drives to one of his shows. He was the most comforting screen presence of 2012.
My number one documentary of the year. Taken from that previous article: Matthew Akers and Jeff Dupre bring to the screen performance artist Marina Abramovic's wildly ambitious MoMA installation The Artist is Present. For three months, she sat motionless in the famed New York museum’s atrium, allowing patrons to take a seat opposite and share the space for as long as they pleased. The concept sounds simple – and to some, perhaps pointless – yet it was a task of gruelling endurance, revealing much from within the creator as well as that of her audience. It inspired a tumblr, a video game, and now a movie. The latter is enthralling, and builds to one of the most cathartic moments I’ve enjoyed in some time. In person, the experience of gazing into Marina’s vulnerable, affection-needing-and-exuding eyes reduced men, women, and children to tears. On celluloid, it's just as effective.
How could one possibly describe the magic and majesty of Benh Zeitlin's Sundance sensation Beasts of the Southern Wild with mere words? Ecstatically splendiferous comes to mind (drink!). Six-year-old pocket rocket Quvenzhané Wallis and baker-turned-actor Dwight Henry astounded as Hushpuppy and Wink, a daughter-daddy duo that survive an devastating New Orleans' flood, only to face the inevitability of death as Wink's health declines. I can still hear the strains of Dan Romer and Zeitlin’s anthemic score in my head. Both quixotic and brutally blunt, this mini-masterpiece bewitched me from the opening moments to the last.
My number one foreign language film of the year. Taken from that previous article: Austrian auteur Michael Haneke did what so few have done before by winning a second Palme d'Or at Cannes for Amour. He also proved himself to be capable of tenderly depicting human relationships on screen. I'd argue the latter was far more surprising. Concerning the final years of octogenarian lovebirds Georges (Jean-Louis Trintignant) and Anne (Emmanuelle Riva), we're treated to their warm, lived-in marriage, before having to share in their suffering. Anne is left partly paralysed by a stroke, and no matter how well Georges cares for her, he's warned it's going to be a steady decline for her from here on out. Amour transcends the misery pornography usually associated to this genre with its startlingly frank depiction of bodily degradation, which is as respectful as the depiction can be. Some may question the worth of a movie consumed by such sadness, though the key is in the title. This is, above all, a love story. We may be used to seeing the starts of these things in meet-cutes and frothy rom-coms; Haneke is merely presenting us with the end of the romance. It helps that legendary veterans Trintignant and Riva deliver two of the finest performances of this - and any - year. Amour has been doing the festival circuit; it gets a wide cinema release early 2013.
3. The Master
Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master was, unsurprisingly, one of the most divisive flicks of 2012; burdened as it was with “event” status thanks to its filmmaker’s towering reputation, Joaquin Phoenix’s anticipated return to the screen after his faux-freakout, the way in which the controversial subject matter - Is it or isn't it a Scientology screed? - scared away every Hollywood investor except art-house loving billionairess Megan Ellison, and even its select theatrical roll-out in cinemas capable of presenting the picture in glorious 70mm. Ignore the hype (or anti-hype) and soak in a visually sumptuous and emotionally tumultuous character piece about troubled WW2 vet Freddie Quell (Phoenix) and the paternal cult-leader - Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) - who takes him under his wing. It may not head where you expect. Consider that just one of its many unique treats.
It's easy to distil Kathryn Bigelow's Zero Dark Thirty into comparative equations. "It's like Homeland plus The Wire." "Zodiac meets The Hurt Locker!" "Team America but serious!" The thing is, as tonally and thematically accurate as such comparisons may be, they're unfair and reductive for what is a gargantuanly ambitious endeavour. It's a sprawling account of the decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden, from the September 11, 2001 attack until his eventual assassination in May of 2011. We follow the stubborn, dogged CIA agent Maya (Jessica Chastain) over this period, and share in her frustrating failures - such as her Sisyphean efforts to get the bureaucrats' support - and celebrate her minor, temporary successes - when torture proves ineffective, she fools a terror suspect into thinking he's already given her the information she needs over a pleasant meal of hummus, and he unwittingly plays along (though the harrowing torture sequences are generating much debate, I can't imagine anyone watching and experiencing these horrific events and rightfully believing Bigelow is depicting them in a positive light). Mark Boal's screenplay astonishingly develops this tremendous character whilst building a captivating procedural around her. The final act - the raid on bin Laden's compound - is about as thrilling as the movies get. With a cast that includes Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton, Mark Strong, Chris Pratt, Jennifer Ehle, Stephen Dillane, Kyle Chandler, Edgar Ramirez, Mark Duplass, and James Gandolfini, this thing is an embarrassment of riches. It hits cinemas January 2013.
I've spent thousands of words on Margaret, so you'll forgive me if I crib from my review of the Extended Cut for this entry. It contains my most enthusiastic and personal thoughts on the flick, and I'd hate to repeat myself by just swapping synonyms:
Before being granted a theatrical release in Australia, Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret screened on international Qantas flights; a comically fitting yet wildly unfair outlet to complement the feature's pitiful roll-out in a handful of American cinemas (where it grossed a meagre $46,000). If you wanted to see this troubled, acclaimed, mishandled movie, you had to go to New York, Los Angeles, or fly 40,000 feet above the Earth. Talk about a limited release. That’s where I saw it, mere days after publishing my Top 10 Films of 2011 list. On December 25th, with a seventeen-hour flight ahead of me, the 150-minute Margaret seemed like a valid viewing option. It proceeded to occupy my mind for the entirety of my holiday abroad. I've since watched the Extended Cut on DVD, and I now wonder if Margaret is not the best film I’ve seen in my time writing for Quickflix. Four years and 500 reviews may only be a splash in the cinematic waters, but its effect on me has been profound.
Shot in 2005, writer-director Lonergan tinkered with the final product for a number of years, failing to meet Fox Searchlight’s demands for a two-and-a-half hour feature. Seven years and one lawsuit later, we have both a theatrical and extended cut to enjoy (though neither can be considered Lonergan's "complete" vision). Anna Paquin gives a stunning performance as the righteous, indignant, argumentative New York teenager Lisa Cohen. When she distracts a bus driver (Mark Ruffalo) and causes a fatal traffic accident, she recoils into distractions like sex, drugs, and class debates, before deciding that the driver needs to pay for his mistake. She appeals to Emily (Jeannie Berlin), the brassy best friend of the victim, Monica Patterson (Allison Janney), and together they consider a wrongful death suit against the Metropolitan Transport Authority. This is just another diversion to keep Lisa's shrieking conscience from admitting blame for the tragedy, and from truly dealing with the grief (including that of her own quickly shed innocence). As all New Yorkers learnt in the days following September 11, 2001, that's a band-aid that just won't stick. Margaret seeks to reopen wounds that were barely healed in the first place.
Though we’re seeing it in 2012, it can’t be denied that this is a 2005 movie. It’s a Bush-era movie. It’s a post-9/11 movie (and a raw one at that). Does that mean it should be exempt from our end of 2012 list? No. Margaret is a masterpiece in any year.